IN THE SPOTLIGHT
CU-Boulder Bridges Digital Divide with Computers To Youth
The University of Colorado Environmental Center, with support from a number of campus departments and private sources, is expanding Computers To Youth, an innovative approach to both protect the environment and benefit disadvantaged communities in Colorado. It is now an ongoing, year-round program, formally launched on Saturday, May 15.
Computers To Youth provides middle and high school students from low income communities around Colorado with upgraded computers and basic computing programs. Surplus computers are donated by CU Property Services after testing components and securely removing data. The high school students then bundle these components into an upgraded computer and load the latest software to assist them in their academic achievement when they take their computer home at the end of the event.
Onsite instruction and follow up mentoring is provided by CU students from the statewide Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program (MESA). CU-Boulder’s administrative MESA Center is located within the Department of Pre-College Outreach Services in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement (ODECE). “Since an important goal is to enhance high school students’ academic skills to enable their enrollment at universities like CU, these CU student mentors also provide ongoing assistance and encouragement throughout the year,” said Gale Day, CU MESA Center director. “For those high school students who choose to enroll at CU-Boulder, ODECE further supports the academic and personal success through academic retention programs like the CU LEAD Alliance.”
Ten MESA high school students are recommended for participation by MESA advisors and/or teachers from schools throughout Colorado, and work together with fiveCU-Boulder engineering students. Both groups have evaluated these Saturday tutorials as truly wonderful and would love to see an increase in frequency. “The university students felt that it was an inspiring learning experience,” said engineering student Rebecca Miller. “The fact that CU put together this program that saves resources, prevents waste and enables future scientists and engineers is completely brilliant.”
Computers to Youth addresses two pressing issues: the growing amount of waste from computers, and the “digital divide" – the relative inaccessibility to computing and communication technology. As technology increasingly becomes a part of daily life, those without computer access fall further and further behind. This consequence mainly effects underprivileged populations, especially youth. With such a great amount of computer equipment being discarded by a technologically advanced campus and community, it makes sense that some of this equipment be restored and redistributed in an effort to bridge the digital divide.
The Environmental Center has demonstrated success in this area, receiving funding from Dell for CU’s first computer roundup in 2005, at which over 50 working systems were collected from the community over the three-day event. In 2006, EPA funding allowed CU to expand its efforts statewide. With this experience, CU can more fully facilitate connecting CU students with disadvantaged middle and high school students year-round.
“This project is unique and exciting because it connects CU’s commitment to diversity with our experience in protecting the environment,” said Jack DeBell, who works at the Environmental Center. “It is designed to remind us that these two efforts can complement one another.” The CU Environmental Center’s newly expanded mission strengthens this link between environmental preservation and social equity.
In addition to Property Services, ODECE and the Environmental Center, other important contributors to date include the CU Parents Association, and the Microsoft Corporation. “We hope this project will create additional collaboration with community groups and corporate sponsors in Colorado,” said Karen Hunter, MESA coordinator with the St. Vrain School District, whose high school students were participants in an event at CU last month. “The students’ newfound confidence as a result of the amazing folks at CU tell it all.”
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